Dog Days of Summer (Part 1)

For Max, every day of summer is a dog day – and not just because he is a dog.

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I actually found out that the “dog days” of summer came to be because of the presence of the constellation Sirius, not because dogs like Max lie around panting, but since the phrase has taken on the other meaning of heat induced exhaustion, I think it is fair to use it that way.

I have no doubt that Max feels some extra exhaustion these days from the intense Texas heat. And laying around is what he does best (second only to eating). To be fair, he does a lot of laying around even in the nicer seasons, but the dog days of summer are a reality in our house.

In fact, the past couple of weeks we got out a box fan for our living room, and it did not take long for Max to figure out how to make full use of it. He may be a hot dog, but he’s still a very smart one.

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I’m impressed every year how well he handles the heat with all his fur, with or without a fan, and that even with the heat, he still wants to get out and go on walks.

Max faces that heat head on, and has taught me the value of doing the same. He has taught me to get up even when I don’t feel like it, to jump into things even when I am tired, and not to let laziness be an excuse. Whether it is taking him on walks even in these dog days of summer, or expending a little extra energy to be present and active where I am needed, Max continually reminds me that sometimes the things most worth doing are the hardest or most uncomfortable.

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He has taught me that even in the uncomfortable heat of conflict or injustice or humbly admitting that I am wrong, I have to walk out and address it. It is easy for me to want to stay inside my little bubble of life, to keep myself cool and at ease, but I am learning the value of stepping out into spaces where I am uncomfortable in order to address the ways I have contributed to problems and broken systems.

It would be nice to stay inside and not deal with those uncomfortable things, but if I did, the poop would just pile up – literally with Max or figuratively.

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But Max has also taught me not to charge out recklessly. Because I don’t want either of us to overheat, we have to push back our walk time until pretty late. I am usually as anxious as he is to go on the walk so that it is not the last thing I do before bed, but so many days the heat just leaves no other options.

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And with all that, Max has taught me to be aware and responsive to what is going on around me, not just charge out and be overwhelmed or unprepared and cause even more harm.

This is of course a very practical lesson as we navigate these dog days, but it is also a lesson as I navigate all those uncomfortable matters. Max has taught me to be attentive to what is happening in the world, recognize that things are changing, and be willing to adapt, even if it is not how I’ve always done things or thought things to be.

Sometimes the life-giving option is not to charge out the door thinking I have all the answers, but rather to pay attention to the temperature of a matter and seek to learn from whatever is going on.

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Now, that does not mean we stay in, isolated from whatever is happening, as tempting as that is. Max has taught me that even when things are almost unbearably hot, it is worth it to get out and walk – to do so thoughtfully and flexibly, to listen and learn before moving, but still to get out and walk.

The dog days of summer can be brutal, but Max has taught me that living in this space and time means we have to face them. He has taught me to step out and be a little uncomfortable in order to connect with others and live a more life-giving way.

So, thank you Max for teaching me how to face these uncomfortable dog days of summer head on, and in a way that does not add to the harm. I’ll happily sweat (or pant) it out with you.

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Sympathy

The first day of summer is just around the corner, and it is already quite hot. I know it will only get worse and worse over the next several months; yet, Max still has to be walked outside.

I prefer the warmth over the cold, but I dread being out in the hot Texas sun, even for a little while and even when I am able to dress as cooly as possible. Then I look down at poor Max who is excited to be outside, but is beat and exhausted from the suffocating heat.

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Max has so much hair, even after shedding gobs of it, and he looks pretty miserable in the heat under that thick coat.

As we walk, I find myself starting to sweat profusely, and I look down at him to see how he is holding up. I am amazed at how differently his body is built to handle the heat. Max’s body is not built to sweat like mine is, so he pants to cool down. Our skin and how our bodies respond to the heat are fundamentally different from each other.

I am more and more amazed at this simple fact the more I think about it. Max can’t feel the light cool breeze that gives me such relief outside (at least not in the way I feel it). And even indoors, Max can’t feel the reassuring warmth of a light touch (at least not the way I feel it). I have to rub or scratch him pretty forcefully for him to feel that comfort.

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Through this difference, Max has taught me that though we can experience similar circumstances and feelings, I will never fully understand what it’s like to be him.

We both get very hot in the summer, and I can sympathize with his exhaustion, but I will never know what it is really like to bear the heat under his fur. We both get hungry, and I can sympathize with him when I have to wait a little too long for a meal, but I will never know what it is really like not to be able to fix that hunger myself.

Max has taught me that sympathy has limits. I can experience the same thing as other people, and, in good faith, attempt to connect to them through sympathy. But I will not really know what it is like for that other person to go through it.

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This reality seems to me to apply across many differences, such as races, genders, and cultures. For instance, I know what it is like to be insulted and mocked, but I will never know what it is like to experience that as a Black, Asian, Native, or Mexican American. I know what it feels like to nurture and care for another, but I will never know what it is like to experience motherhood.

Given these fundamental differences in experience, I sometimes wonder if attempting to sympathize is unhelpful. But Max has taught me that sympathy is an incredible tool in relating to others. When people seek to share and understand the deep pains and joys of life, something incredible happens to bring them together. Max has taught me that sympathy has its limits, but that just means I have to find appropriate ways to exercise it.

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I can use the openness and attentive understanding of others to be more compassionate and thus be joyful when others are joyful or bring comfort in distressing situations. I can connect with others on more than a superficial level.

But, I cannot say I know what it feels like. Because I don’t. My biology or cultural heritage or society’s response to me is fundamentally different. And it is only when I am fully honest about such differences that I can make the turn to really listen and try to understand what the other person is going through.

Yet, Max has also taught me that these very differences are incredibly valuable and are meant to be celebrated and cherished. I learn things from Max that I would not otherwise think about because he is so different. Moreover, I am pulled out of my own self-centered world in order to sympathize with Max. As I become more open to him, that openness begins to define my connection to many different people.

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It is fascinating and fantastic that Max is different and it is fascinating and fantastic that I can learn from him, establish a relationship with him, and find ways to step outside my own world to walk with him sympathetically – bearing the heat together (even if it means one of us is panting and the other sweating) and exploring the beauty of creation together (even if that means one of us is sniffing all around the ground and one is gazing across the horizon).

Max and I are fundamentally different in many ways, but when we embrace and respect those differences, we can begin the work of open-hearted understanding that is the foundation of our sympathetic bond.

So, thank you Max for teaching me about how limited, yet important, sympathy can be. Thank you for teaching me how to better connect with people who experience the world in vastly different ways compared to me. And thank you for bearing those hot, summer walks with me.

Too Cool For School

Over the past couple years, Max has been a pioneer of summer style. He has pushed the fashion limits to previously unknown horizons and has ushered in a new era of class. As summer break draws to a close this week and school is about to begin, I present to you Max’s exclusive guide for how to look too cool for school.

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Pharrell is not the only leader in pup-rock hat fashion. Grab a rockin’ hat to convey your chill, stylish mood.

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This provoking piece of fashion reexamines what it means to be leashed to our responsibilities. Are you really free to bark up any tree you want? Free to try these new styles? What’s holding you back? Are you the master of your own leash?

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It’s been doggone hot this summer, but no need to cool down unstylishly. Just cover yourself with mud, you’ll look pawsitively beautiful!

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Don’t want to get muddy? Not worried about modesty? You can also keep cool by going minimalist and showing your beautifur body just how it is.

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It’ll be ruff going without some cool footwear. Max stomps out fashion furpaws with his hip socks and sandals.

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And as we all get back to school or to whatever hairy business we find ourselves in, there’s no reason to be un-pup-fessional. Tie up your worries with a subtle, classy expression of yourself.

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So, from ear to paw, Max has you covered for all your back to school style needs. Try one! Try them all! And retrieve envious stares and glowing compliments from all your friends!

Staying Cool

Max is one hott dog. 

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Now that it is summer, he is especially hot. Despite serious efforts on his part to shed as much hair as possible all throughout my apartment, he is still very hairy and I’m sure that is not very comfortable in the Texas summer heat.

His struggle with being hot has kept me humble and taught me not to complain when I feel hot – especially when I am complaining in shorts and a t-shirt. He, as well as many others, have a much harder time dealing with the heat in the summer than I ever will.

But equally importantly, Max has taught me how to stay cool as the heat continues to increase over the next several months.

He has a rather simple recipe for staying so cool. It involves water and mud.

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He has taught me this lesson several times now, and has also taught me that it is important to employ this method of being cool at the beginning of an outing, not the end.

The first time, we were walking down a long, dusty path. I brought water for him to drink, but that did not do enough to keep him cool. So on the way out he dragged me to a big creek and jumped right in. 

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Then, he finished it off with a nice mud roll.

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Then we had to get in the car, and he taught me that next time we must get wet and muddy at the beginning so that we dry off by the end.

This week, I took him to a dog park and after running around for a while, he found the one mud puddle in the park.  Upon seeing it, he went straight in and dipped the bottom half of his body in like he was in a dog-sized chocolate fondue pot.  

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I guess it feels really nice and it is definitely stylishly cool.

So, thank you Max for teaching me how to stay cool in the summer. And thank you for teaching me how best to deal with you when you decide to cool off. I may or may not employ your method, but here’s to many more muddy memories!

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